I just got home from Midwest Weaver's Conference which was at Butler University in Indianapolis this year. I have not taught at MWC before but found that it is one of the teacher's favorites. And for good reason. The students were bright, motivated, and self-starters. This makes a tremendous difference in a full class. The organizers worked incredibly hard to keep everyone happy and they did a fantastic job of it. They had to keep hundreds of people moving in very different ways, a job I don't envy but they did it with a smile.
(Spoiler alert for ANWG* students next week!) The pre-conference class I taught was Predicting the Unpredictable: Color in Tapestry. This is my color theory class and we start out talking about value. Value is the relative lightness/darkness of a hue when compared to the grayscale. It is incredibly important in art design and I find that many weavers don't understand it well at all. So one of the first things we do is rearrange the yarn table by value. This has an added benefit for me: I don't have to organize the yarn when I pull it out of the suitcase usually late at night after a flight from somewhere.
In the example below, Kelli, Anne, and Angie are putting the final touches on the value arrangement using a black and white filter on their phone cameras.
I caught Angie Simon working in the dorm lobby one evening... and she finished this sample and was on to another the next day.
Jenny Chicone brought some of her finished pieces with her. Both Jenny and Angie have taken my online classes and their work shows their consistent dedication to tapestry weaving.
Anne Reaves has been in my workshops before and it was wonderful to see her again. She wove these samples (plus one more!) on her Hokett loom. She has other looms, but this class uses simple weaving and this was the loom that worked best for her this week. She did a fantastic job with these value and color exercises. She is a professor of medieval history and gave a lecture about medieval Scandinavian and German tapestries when I was giving my ergonomics lecture. Oh how sorry I am to have missed her lecture! And I had no idea she was giving it since I never saw the registration list for this conference or what classes were being offered.
Anne Keogh brought this baby Macomber to the class and I was really pleased at how good the tension was even on this small loom. I have this exact loom but mine is probably 40 years older than hers and the tension is not as good. Anne had woven almost no tapestry before coming to this class. She is what I would call an "adventure-seeking beginner" (thanks to Robyn Spady for that term!). She dove right in and wove this piece during the class.
Ellen Robertson has also taken many of my classes. She wove this wonderful value exercise as well as a grand experiment in mixing warm and cool colors. I was only able to get quick snapshots of these, but I think they are good enough to give you the idea. The orange/blue square was a real challenge. She was using four singles and of course blue and orange are not the same value. There was a nice mixing between orange and red-orange, but the values between the blue/blue-green strip and the orange/red-orange strip were fairly different. In yarn with only four singles in a bundle, that wasn't enough to give us the blending we really wanted to see. You can get the feeling for what happens when mixing the warm and cool colors. With thinner yarn or a wider sett that would allow more wefts in each bundle, we might have gotten closer. Nevertheless, I'm really happy she did the exercise and I think it was instructive (for me at least).
Linda Ryden wove some wonderful things including this eccentric curve and gradation. Understanding of value is necessary to make a gradation work out well and she did a great job with this! And Deborah Thomas quietly put together many of the color concepts we were discussing in the weaving on the right.
There were many more wonderful weavings during the three-day workshop. Some of them I didn't manage to photograph.
A big part of learning to use color is to learn to observe. I have many exercises I present using Color Aid paper simply because they are so much faster to do than with yarn. Here are a few examples which you could replicate yourself at home. If you don't want to buy a pack of Color Aid paper, take yourself to a paint store and see if they have any paint chips that have "expired" that they want to give to you instead of throwing away. Alternatively, pretend you're doing a large paint job and choose a selection.
Janet Bowen shared her photos of her paper exercises and I'm sharing some of those with you. One exercise I like to do which is similar to the yarn-table project is to cut out 20 (or as many as you want) squares from paint chips in a variety of values. Challenge yourself to put them in order and then check yourself with a black and white photograph or the black and white filter on your cell phone camera. You'll be surprised which squares do not belong where you think they do. I use a 1 inch square punch from the scrapbooking section of a craft store to make these squares uniform.
Janet also did this exercise looking at how surrounding colors affected this bright red square. How does the red look different surrounded by warmer colors (the yellow/orange side of the color wheel) or cooler colors (the blue side of the color wheel)?
Simultaneous contrast is an important and endlessly fascinating phenomenon. Colors next to each other influence each other. Our eye wants to see the complement in the color we're looking at and this fact can really play with your head! In the two samples below, there are four different colors, but the difference in background colors makes the olive green look almost the same in the photo on the left.
Another interesting and simple thing to do is to put identical squares on a black or white background. The example to the left used a gray background but you can still see the effect. Black tends to make the squares look larger and lighter. White or light backgrounds make the squares look smaller and more intense. The two blue squares and two green squares are identical. How can you use this in your tapestry design process?
My collection of woven samples continues to grow. At some point recently someone questioned why I was traveling with my samples in my checked bags and a fairly inexpensive digital projector in my carry-on. The samples are impossible to replace. The projector, infinitely replaceable (in fact I'd love an upgrade). Now the projector is in checked luggage packed in yarn (couldn't possibly get hurt with all that cushion) and the samples ride in my carry-on.
The samples are all meant to be instructive for workshops. Many of them were made while shooting video for the online classes which means the colors I was using are highly contrasted and often of a light value. It is much harder to see what I am doing on a video if I use dark colors that blend together. Of course in my own work I love nothing more than subtle color blends. So one day I need to weave some of these samples in a way I'd actually use them in my own work.
Janet also brought some nettle yarn which she got from Weaver's Bazaar. I spent a little time playing with it on a Hokett loom. It is processed much like linen and does feel a lot like linen. It was very thick-thin and made interesting patterns in the weaving. It is fun to play with new materials.
I taught a one-day introduction to tapestry weaving class. I enjoy that particular class because we talk about tools and materials and experiment with what weaving is like. It is intended to help people decide if they want to get into tapestry weaving before they purchase a loom and tapestry yarn. I prefer to teach this class somewhere I can drive so I can fill my car with looms for them to try out, but we made due with Hokett looms and had a happy day of it.
And my final class was Creating Without Pain: Ergonomics for Fiber Artists. This material comes from my years of working as an occupational therapist and my observation that fiber people are prone to self-injury. We don't think we will hurt ourselves with the relatively sedentary activities we engage in around fiber, but we definitely can. In fact, sedentary is part of the problem. I could write forever on this topic but will save it for another time. Plus I'm giving that 3-hour lecture twice at ANWG*, my next stop in my summer teaching tour. I'll give you more details after that.
And of course when you're at a conference for a whole week, there are many stories that I'm sure we'll tell at conferences for years to come. Things like the amazing weaving instructors who I finally got spend some time with. The opportunity to talk to other people who do this job as I work in isolation so much of the time. The cafeteria which honestly didn't do a great job with gluten intolerance and I was so tired of turkey wrapped in a lettuce leaf. One morning I did find some GF Udi's bagels but there was no butter that wasn't contaminated by the regular bread to put on the already-toasted bagel. In the photo below? That is vanilla yogurt. But the end of that story is that the kind gentleman I asked about the butter actually ran across campus to another cafeteria and about 5 minutes later came back, sweating profusely from his efforts, with a bowl of individually wrapped pats of butter. So the second half of the bagel had butter. I will admit that I escaped one night to a local pub and had the best cobb salad with a glass of wine. My attitude adjusted fairly quickly.
Hot. I mention that Indy is hot and humid in June?
And then there was all the other workshops going on around me. Diane Totten was teaching her crimp weave and the garments were unbelievable. Eileen Hallman was teaching natural dyeing and then a charka class I'd have loved to take. Next door to my classroom, John Mullarkey was enthralling weavers with his tablet weaving (yes, I may have bought his books and videos--I couldn't resist). Heather Winslow's class was about silk and there were silk worms there! (You can see a little video in THIS blog post.) And those were just the classes in close proximity to me. Madelyn Van der Hoogt was editor of Handwoven when I was learning multi-shaft weaving and so I have a bit of a awe-filled respect for her presence. She gave the keynote which I enjoyed so much I was disappointed when she stopped talking. I could have listened to another hour.
*Association of Northwest Weaver's Guilds